Northern Ireland

BBC NI boss involved in controversial Newsnight programme

The director of BBC Northern Ireland has confirmed he had a role in the Newsnight programme that wrongly implicated a senior Conservative politician in a child abuse scandal.

Peter Johnston had some involvement prior to it being broadcast, but it is not known exactly what.

He is on the BBC's national management board.

When asked if he was considering his position he said: "No, I am not."

Speaking outside BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast, Mr Johnston said he had "great faith" in BBC journalism and confirmed that he was involved in decisions about the report.

He said that the next stage of this process was now under way and would "amongst other things, seek to clarify decision-making roles and responsibilities".

He said that the investigations will be concluded "as quickly as possible" and that until then he would make no further comment.

A report on the programme said there was "ambiguity" about who was taking ultimate editorial responsibility.

The Director of BBC Scotland Ken MacQuarrie was asked to investigate the circumstances and editorial failings around the programme.


In a summary of the report he said that some basic journalistic checks were not completed.

He said that the Newsnight editorial management structure had been "seriously weakened" since the editor stood aside and one of the deputy editors left the BBC. He said the "editorial leadership of the team was under very considerable pressure".

He also said that it was "not clear" if the story was considered to be related to the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile.

"A clear decision on this does not appear to have been taken until lunchtime on Friday, 2 November.

"As a consequence there was ambiguity around who was taking the ultimate editorial responsibility for the Newsnight report, particularly in the days leading up to the day of transmission."

Mr Johnson, 46, is from Ballymena, County Antrim, and has a background in marketing.

His previous employers included Shell and Coopers & Lybrand.

He joined BBC Northern Ireland in 1994 and rose quickly through the ranks to become Head of Programmes, before being appointed to the job of controller - or director as it is now called.

He has been director for six years and is in charge of 650 staff. He is on a salary of about £150,000.

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